Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fatherhood and the Matrix

Blogging is therapeutic for me. I keep a journal, and some of what I write in my journal makes it into my blog posts. But blogging helps me to think more deeply about issues and, in the process, come to better understand myself and life.

I have been masticating on the subject of this post for well over a month, and I have finally decided to tackle it because of recent events in my life and because of additional insights that I have gained through reading Chris Nutter’s book, The Way Out.

As I have written before, some of my children (thankfully, a minority) have cut off contact with me as a result of my coming out and the divorce that followed. I have wanted to reach out to these children, one in particular, and had decided over the Christmas holidays that the time had come to do so. I wrote a lengthy letter to this child, but decided I’d better run it by my therapist before sending it. I’m glad I did.

Cynthia read the letter, then shared her frank opinion: I had written too much about the past – about my past and about our past, i.e., my past relationship with this child. Cynthia told me bluntly that this child and I didn’t have an “emotional landscape” that would support what I was offering in my letter.

I really latched on to this concept of “emotional landscape.” As Cynthia and I talked, we discussed how, in Mormonism, it is extremely common to not find real relationships between parents and children. Everything is defined by what I term the “Mormon Matrix” – that layer of “reality” that we (as Mormons) all pretend is reality, when in fact it is a manufactured reality that everyone buys into and pretends is real. Rarely does one delve below the Matrix; we do not know how to act there, and when the Matrix is destroyed or exposed, many of us also do not know how to act.

We unconsciously sustain this unreality by providing it our energy, believing in our righteousness in doing so, and many are those who really have lost all consciousness that the Matrix is not in fact real. And even when it is destroyed or exposed, some refuse to believe in its unreality, willingly clinging to it rather than face what is real.

I depended heavily on the Mormon Church to teach me how and give me the tools to be a good parent. I certainly didn’t have good role models in this respect. My therapist helped me to appreciate the significance of this fact, which helped me to understand why I so desperately signed on to the program when I joined the Church.

As a Mormon father, I felt my primary functions were to mold and “train up” my children – to help them do their best in school, to teach them how to work by doing chores around the house, to raise them up in the Gospel, to help them develop their talents, and beyond all this, to convey my own values of independent-mindedness, to teach them to think for themselves and to get as much education as they possibly could.

Of course, I “loved” them, but I felt constrained by the Matrix, as well as my own issues and personality, from establishing REAL relationships with them. Then there was the whole gay thing, which had a constant prophylactic effect upon all aspects of my life. This was part of the Reality from which the Matrix purported to protect me.

Coming out, for me, led to a shattering of the Mormon Matrix – at least in my own life. Confronting my homosexuality resulted in me also confronting other instances of inauthenticity in my life. Life in the Matrix had, in many ways, been ordered, controlled, sustainable, particularly when it came to my relationships with my children. I’m not saying that these relationships were not real, but I am saying that I realized after coming out that they were not self-sustaining outside of the Matrix.

I am pleased to say that my relationships with most of my children have blossomed and grown since I left the Matrix. The relationships are no longer framed by the gospel of duty, eternality, and distracting busyness. Nor are they framed by the toxic mix that was created by my desperate desire to live up to an idealized conception of fatherhood, which discountenanced the essence of who I am – a gay man. In the result, the emotional landscape of these relationships has become richer and more verdant.

A minority of these relationships, however, have withered, apparently unsustainable outside the Matrix. I have felt very sad about this. I have also (I recently realized) felt guilty – which of course is one of the things we are constantly warned will be a result of leaving the Matrix. If only I hadn’t come out, these relationships would be intact – as the voice inside my head says.

But this is where what I have been reading in The Way Out comes into play. Chris Nutter points out that fears come from unconscious living, from our ego, and that we have a choice of either buying into those fears (including guilt) or, instead, shining the light of consciousness on these feelings and recognizing them for what they are: a self-condemnation because we are gay.

The truth is that these relationships with some of my children that have withered were already severely damaged before I came out. As long as we all lived in the Matrix, there was some semblance of cohesiveness that hid the toxicity. All my coming out did was expose what was already there.

For the past several weeks, I have pondered how I looked outside myself for my idealized role as a father; it was “out there” (as opposed to being inside myself) and I had to conform to this role if I wanted to have good relationships with my children and to achieve redemption of my gay self within the confines of the Matrix.

I have pondered how internalized homophobia and guilt over being gay has colored my perception of what has happened. And I have pondered and searched for and nurtured my essence as a loving father that comes from within me, rather than from without. But to do this, I have had to overcome what I have told myself and allowed others to tell me from the time I was a child: that I am defective because I am gay and nothing good can come from within me, that anything good must come from without – which has resulted in a breeding ground for guilt, fears, self-loathing and insecurity.

In essence, I am applying what I have learned by reading The Way Out. I am trusting myself to believe that I have it within me to be a loving father, that I don’t have to search for it without; that I am capable of real, authentic love that springs from within, rather than applied from without. That it is by being true to, accepting and loving who I am, that this love can be allowed to flow. It will not come from feelings of fear, guilt and self-flagellation.

It saddens me that my relationships with some of my children are what they are. But I know that the basis for moving forward – if there is to be any moving forward with them – must be in the emotional landscape of reality, self-love and self-acceptance, rather than in the Matrix.

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